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Innovation, Exports Rule Milano Unica

Silk cited as a key fabric at the textile trade show.

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MILAN — Europe’s economic uncertainty didn’t stop the creativity of the high-end Italian textile firms that presented innovative products at the 16th edition of Milano Unica, the three-day textile trade show that closed here on Friday.

This story first appeared in the February 12, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In 2012, the Italian textile industry posted a 5.1 percent drop in revenues to 8 billion euros, or $10.4 billion at average exchange rates, compared with 2011. According to data provided by Italian fashion and textile consortium SMI Sistema Moda Italia, textile products dropped 3 percent in 2012, even with positive results in Japan, Russia, the U.S. and China.

Helping to give a positive feeling to exhibitors, Sir Paul Smith, a regular at the fair, which this season saw the number of visitors increase 5.5 percent compared with February 2012, kicked off the show with an insightful speech during the inaugural press conference on Wednesday.

Smith highlighted the importance for fashion designers, whom he views as too sheltered in their “ivory towers,” to attend trade shows in order to be inspired and meet people. To meet the challenges of the market, the British designer suggested entrepreneurs should “push their creativity” and “think laterally” to create brands focused on “individuality” and that have a clear “point of view” and a “balance” between more commercial and fashionable products.

Branding, innovation and internationalization were the key ingredients highlighted by Ermenegildo Zegna Group chief executive officer Gildo Zegna to succeed in the current market. The company, which closed 2012 reporting a 12 percent increase in revenues up to 1.25 billion euros, or $1.6 billion, forecast single-digit growth in 2013.

“The year will be difficult, especially in the first part, also due to the strong euro,” Zegna said.

Zegna pointed to the role of silk as one of the reasons for the brand’s success in international markets. He said, “Starting to combine silk with our traditional fibers has been a very smart strategy that enabled us to enrich summer collections with products featuring the same luxury standards of the winter season.”

At Milano Unica, the Biella-based company presented a new fabric mixing mohair with silk. This is also available with Cool Effects technology that reduces the absorption of sunlight, allowing men to wear dark-colored suits during the summer.

Many of the exhibitors at the trade show confirmed that silk is on the upswing. The increased demand for the natural fiber is probably the reason for the instability of its price, which has significantly risen in the last few months.

“Due to silk’s high cost, we had to raise our prices by 5 to 10 percent,” said Bocchese 1908 ceo Michele Bocchese.

In keeping with the company’s DNA, the Italian firm launched “Denim Loves Silk,” an innovative denimlike silk fabric. “The world of denim is extremely important and we like the idea of combining it with something classic and traditional like silk,” Bocchese said. “This…reflects our current strategy focused on reinterpreting silk fabrics, our core products, in an unconventional and creative way.”

Denim also inspired Loro Piana’s “Lin de Nîmes,” a linen fabric with a denim effect designed for men’s and women’s casual pants and outerwear. In addition, the company introduced men’s lightweight, crease-resistant wool fabric “Accademia,” along with “Aqua Wool,” a machine-washable knit wool fabric available in piqué or jersey.

“Our strategy is definitely not driven by fear, instead we are pushing on research creating new innovative products,” said ceo Pier Luigi Loro Piana, who forecast that the company, which saw its textile unit close 2012 with a 5 percent increase, will keep growing in 2013. “I’m confident that both the U.S. and China will perform pretty well this year, despite the rising value of the euro.”

Botto Fila ceo Alberto Bertoni also listed the strong euro and its impact on export pricing, in addition to difficulties in obtaining bank credit, as among the problems that could affect the market in the coming months.

At the fair, Botto Fila, which generates 70 percent of its revenues outside Italy, presented a collection focused on comfortable fabrics, mixing superfine wool with stretch materials. Patterns ranged from micro-houndstooth, soft tartans and thin pinstripes to crease-resistant wool fabric.

Technology took center stage at Marzotto as well, which launched “Scudo,” a line that features waterproof and breathable fabrics made of cotton, a cotton-and-silk blend, stretch poplin and wool paired with an exclusive high-tech Japanese membrane.

Marzotto-owned velvet-maker Redaelli Velluti launched lightweight linen corduroy, available in a natural color palette. Silk-maker and print specialist Ratti used new techniques to obtain sophisticated and unusual patterns, showing exploded-like dots and Breton stripes.

Shirt-fabric-maker Testa also played with patterns, including more elegant stripes and chic casual checks printed on cotton and cotton-and-linen-blend fabrics. The company also embraced one of the season’s biggest trends — denim — in the form of two-tone high-end cloths for jeans.

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